UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir raised concerns on Saturday about U.N. peacekeepers focusing on protecting civilians amid renewed violence – as instructed by the U.N. Security Council – instead of state-building in the world’s newest nation.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan in December after months of tension sparked by Kiir’s decision to fire rival and former Vice President Riek Machar. Deep ethnic divisions have also fueled the violence, pitting Kiir’s Dinka people against Machar’s Nuer.
“My government would like to raise its concern regarding the recent mandate of UNMISS (the U.N. mission) which has serious implications in service delivery to my people,” Kiir told the 193-member United Nations General Assembly.
He complained that the U.N. mission was no longer helping the authorities of South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, with capacity building, peace-building, security sector reforms, recovery and development.
The U.N. Security Council authorized peacekeepers in May to give priority to the protection of civilians in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources within the mission. The council doubled the number of peacekeepers in late December to 12,500 troops when fighting broke out.
Kiir asked the 15-member Security Council to reconsider the changes it made to the U.N. peacekeeping mission when it renews the mission at the end of November.
But U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said “now is not the time to think about building state institutions,” which he said often had ties to human rights violations.
“It has been abundantly clear since this crisis started that we could not continue with the original mandate of state building. We have to concentrate on alleviating the main consequences of the drama, that is to protect the civilians,” he told reporters on Saturday after Kiir’s speech.
“We have to monitor human rights abuses and act upon them because there has been massive violations by all sides, including the government,” Ladsous said.
At least 10,000 people have been killed and more than 1.1 million displaced, with tens of thousands of civilians seeking shelter and protection at United Nations peacekeeping bases. The United Nations and aid agencies have accused both sides of ethnic-based massacres and grave human rights violations.
“UNMISS needs to protect civilians in their neighborhoods and not in camps in a huge country like ours, which is bigger than the size of France,” said Kiir, adding that his government had launched an investigation of rights abuses.
Kiir blamed Machar for the violence, which he described as a failed coup because Machar was “too impatient in his thirst for power,” and stated that the conflict was “purely a political struggle for power – not an ethnic conflict as reported.”
With his country on the brink of famine, Kiir failed to attend a high-level meeting on the humanitarian crisis on Thursday – organized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – at which pledges of help were made.
Kiir said on Saturday that South Sudan “deeply appreciated and welcomed” the aid meeting.
The United States, frustrated with slow progress in South Sudan’s peace process, said on Thursday it was ready to expand sanctions against political and military figures unless warring parties end the violence quickly.
The U.N. Security Council has long been threatening sanctions against the warring parties, but has yet to act.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Dan Grebler)